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Black Twitter: A People's History

Black people are the architects of American culture. The hip verbiage many young people speak, the music they consume, and even the most influential art among what could be called hipsters are derived from Black people. Our distinctive perception of the world has become a pavement for creativity, and social media is no exception. During the exodus of Twitter—or X if you're lame or a bot—the influential grip they had became so significant that it's warranted a 3-part Hulu docu-series on the subject. For an influential sub-culture, Prentice Penny's "Black Twitter: A People's History" is a trip down memory lane, highlighting the pivotal moments in Black culture, politically and artistically, and how our diverse voices made the app better and voices heard, but it stumbles by excluding so many people who made this corner of the internet so influential.

Based on Jason Parham's 2021 Wired piece "A People's History of Black Twitter," the three-part doc chronicles different avenues in which Black people were the creators that gave Twitter its wings. In the early 2010s, Black people preferred the site over its main competitor, Facebook. Once a few hashtags such as '#twitterafterdark' and '#youknowyoureblackwhen' started flying, it became a communal beacon for Black users, inviting them to show up and add their voices to the conversation. This was the birth of what we now know as 'Black Twitter, a unique community within the larger Twitter platform where Black users share their experiences, perspectives, and humor, specific hashtags connecting and amplifying their voices. It's a space where everyone's voice matters, and it's had a significant impact on shaping cultural and political discourse on social media.

The three episodes revolve around Black Twitter's digital origin, the social changes it influenced by its impact, and the circling down the drain during the Trump era through the pandemic and up to Elon Musk's current reign. Of its three near-hour chapters, the first plays like a joyous celebration as an ensemble of journalists, hashtag originators, comedians, and scholars discuss many joke exchanges originating from the latest dramatic moments in “Scandal” or “Game of Thrones.” Panelists recount iconic incidents that went viral via the bird app from the Rihanna/Ciara beef of 2011 that had everyone gagged to the infamous Zola Twitter thread, the first instance a Twitter tale became a full-fledged movie ("Zola"), showcasing Black Twitter's cultural impact.

As it progresses, the series doubles down on the discussion of the advancement of technology and how the platform became a tool for Black voices to be heard nationwide, such as April Reign's #oscarsowhite campaign in 2014, which commented on the constant omission of Black people in Oscar acting categories, lending to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences diversifying their membership pool. Or with Alicia Garza's #BlackLivesMatter campaign that started in response to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin.

With "Black Twitter: A People's History," Penny assembles numerous journalists, scholars, comedians, and internet personalities, including W. Kamau Bell, Amanda Seales, Jemele Hill, Roxane Gay, Sam Jay, Brad Jenkins, Alicia Garza, and April Reign. Given the celebration of inclusivity, its aura is disappointingly exclusive as most of the subjects' opinions are high-profile people with blue checks. Each panelist's profile appears to bear that verification symbol at the end of their name; while today it carries little weight, it'd be preferable to consult other influential users with less problematic backgrounds than, say, the always controversial Amanda Seales

It’s uncomfortable that people like Seales and Kristy Tillman get the spotlight to cover misogynoir when they were publicly slammed for defending terrible men as recently as last weekend, when Tillman defended journalist DJ Vlad, who called for a Black Princeton professor’s job. Why are these the people who get to have these discussions and not people outside of the casting director’s bizarre definition of Black Twitter royalty? 

If the viewer is a young Black kid who didn’t know of Twitter until its current X-era, the doc functions as a surface-level crash course. But the movement deserves more than a superficial appreciation. For anyone who was there, it feels ultimately thankless due to our shared experiences down paths we don't necessarily want to reminisce on. And it breezes through topics ripe for deeper conversation. 

Whole series screened for review. On Hulu now.

Rendy Jones

Rendy Jones (they/he) is a film and television journalist born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. They are the owner of self-published independent outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics' Choice Association, GALECA, and a part time stand-up comedian.

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Black Twitter: A People's History movie poster

Black Twitter: A People's History (2024)


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